Tony Perkins: SCOTUS, Forget Not the Florist and Other Religious Objectors

By Tony Perkins | June 10, 2019 | 4:06pm EDT
Floral artist Barronelle Stutzman (left) and cake artist Jack Phillips (right) (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

It was shaping up to be a great week. Barronelle Stutzman just got the news that she'd won the Readers' Choice Award for Best Florist in the Tri-City Herald. But the prize she really wanted was something people couldn't vote on: her vindication in a six-year case over same-sex marriage.

When the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Jack Phillips and his Masterpiece Cakeshop, no one was more thrilled than the owner of Arlene's Flowers. She, Aaron and Melissa Klein, and other wedding vendors who'd been sued for their religious beliefs had all become friends – members of a club none of them chose to join. But as happy as they were for Jack, they were also disappointed that the justices didn't take the opportunity to decide the issue for all of them.

In June of last year, there was at least a hopeful sign for Arlene's Flowers. The justices threw out a lower court's ruling and sent Barronelle's case back to the Washington Supreme Court for “further consideration” in light of Jack's ruling. Her attorneys at Alliance Defending Freedom celebrated. After all, they were getting a chance most people don't: a second crack at exonerating the beloved shop owner, whose home, assets, and livelihood are all on the line.

Unfortunately for everyone, the activist judges on her home state's highest court have no interest in ruling fairly. Instead, they doubled down on their decision, announcing Thursday that “the answer to the Supreme Court's question is no; the adjudicatory bodies that considered this case did not act with religious animus when they ruled that the florist and her corporation violated the Washington Law Against Discrimination ... by declining to sell wedding flowers to a gay couple.” And, the court went on, “they did not act with religious animus when they ruled that such discrimination is not privileged or excused by the United States Constitution or the Washington Constitution.”

All nine members of the court insisted that they had “painstakingly reviewed the record” for signs of “intolerance.” After this review, “we are confident that the two courts gave full and fair consideration to this dispute and avoided animus toward religion. We therefore find no reason to change our original decision in light of Masterpiece Cakeshop.”

The ruling was a disappointment, ADF explained, but not a surprise. After all, the court had ignored Barronelle's basic freedoms the first time. So, ADF insists, they will fight on. “The hostility my state has shown me because of my faith is undeniable,” Barronelle told reporters, “and I am confident the U.S. Supreme Court will see that viewpoint.” For SCOTUS, who's been doing its best not to answer the fundamental question on wedding vendors, it looks like Arlene's Flowers is back. As more cases keep bubbling up – from cakes to planners and florists to venues – the justices won't be able to take a pass forever, like abortion, they will have to address the mess they've made with their judicial activism in redefining marriage.

In fact, Ryan Everson encourages, conservatives should be happy with Washington's outcome, because it tees up another opportunity for the Supreme Court to set “a broad precedent” on the First Amendment freedom of religion. And this time, he points out, they'll have better justices to decide it. “Remember, Anthony Kennedy wrote both the Obergefell and Masterpiece decisions. Justice Brett Kavanaugh's appointment, if anything, seems likely to permit a broader reading of the Masterpiece Cakeshop victory.” Then, of course, there's Neil Gorsuch, who – he points out – wrote the lower court opinion on Hobby Lobby. “In other words, liberals won the battle today. But in doing so, they may have set themselves up to lose the war next year.”

Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC Action senior writers.

Editor's Note: This piece was originally published by the Family Research Council.

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